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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Yo-Yo Season

That’s what I call our northern springs, and this year has been no exception. We’ll have a couple of balmy, no-jacket afternoons, and then the temperature plunges back into the 30s, and we see snowflakes in the air--not a welcome sight in May, but we remind each other, shrugging, “Well, this is Michigan!” (the part of the country where “What shall I wear?” often translates to “Winter coat or spring jacket?”). While the furnace was still kicking on and off, however, we managed a couple of front porch meals before the latest cold spell, and I look forward to many more as the days lengthen and late afternoon sun pours in.

Until then, everything being a double-edged sword (my philosophy of life), the upside to cold, rainy days is that there’s no pressure to get outside and start spring yard work, so last Monday—still a “day off” for me, in general, though next Monday, the day before our big world premiere book launch, may prove an exception—David and I cut short our errands in town to come home and get cozy by the fire. He’s currently reading, on my recommendation, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton, and enjoying it every bit as much as I did, while I feel like I’ve been on a little fiction mini-binge, going straight from My Name is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout) to a re-reading of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Anne Tyler), and then, after a travel memoir, jumping into Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking.

Reading Strout and Tyler back-to-back raised questions in my mind about the two authors’ reputations and my own responses to their work. Both are Pulitzer winners, with similar themes in their fiction. My questioning thoughts sparked a bookstore conversation with one friend who has read work by both writers, and her take on the two was that Strout is more cerebral and keeps more distance between her characters and her readers, while Tyler allows readers to enter more immediately into her characters’ lives. Tyler’s writing, my friend thinks, is more “heartfelt.” One interview with Strout calls her writing “spare.” In fact, interviews I found with each of the writers (Strout here; Tyler here) reinforced the feelings I already had: Basically, I admire the work of Elizabeth Strout and am interested in the ways she tells her stories, but I love Anne Tyler’s novels--and I don't think the difference is as simple as Tyler's work being more "accessible," but what do you think? Different responses, anyone?

Colum McCann, in Thirteen Ways of Looking, does something similar to what Strout and Tyler have done, in that he takes an incident forward and backward in time and gives the reader various perspectives that build into a larger, deeper picture, doing it with a slightly Joycean, wonderfully Irish narrative voice. Another aspect of the novel not immediately apparent (or maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places) is that it’s a mystery, with clues dropped all along the way, but what meant much more to me was how stilled I was by reading this book, the world outside dropping away.

But my attention is a yo-yo this season, too, what with a world premiere book launch on the docket for next Tuesday! Oh, did I already mention that? (Details here if you missed them earlier.) 


Barbara Stark-Nemon said...

What a combo! Strout, Tyler and McCann! We'll have to talk more about this.....

P. J. Grath said...

Barbara, I'll look forward to the conversation. Have been having several lately re Tyler and Strout but have only talked McCann with one friend.